One Year Later

On August 21 of last year, a woman I knew gave me a diary. It was a significant gift in more ways than one; our relationship had begun with a diary, in a convoluted way, and she had heard me express how important it was to tell what I was feeling to someone, anyone, more than once, even if that someone was just paper and a pen. And my relationship with her was ending that day — I was leaving for New York on the 23rd, and might never see her again — and so the gift of the diary meant something that neither of us could quite put into words, or that neither of us quite wanted to.

Here in my room yesterday, surrounded by clothes and books and suitcases, I was struck suddenly by the diary.

Because I had never used it.

This is not totally accurate — I had written four entries in it, three sitting in my room back in California and one in my dorm room — but after August 25, the little book is nothing but blank pages. The last entry is nothing but minutiae: telling it that my father is at a meeting for NYU parents, my roommates have moved in, a brief review of the production of Romeo and Juliet I had seen last night — and then, hastily scribbled, I shouldn’t be writing, I should be saying hi.

Today the storage men are coming, and I will load my things one after the other into the bins to be packed away until August, and here I am, sitting on my bed surrounded by the evidence of my first year at NYU.

The first thing that catches the eye is my blazer, tossed over the back of my chair, where I left it last night after I came home from work. Yesterday was my last day at Random House, and the experience has been amazing. I’ve read an incredible variety of manuscripts, from the most compelling, heartwrenching, and downright funny children’s lit to the most boring and cliche YA dystopias; I’ve dug my way through the pile of slush (unsolicited submissions) with a shovel; I’ve forwarded author mail, and gotten to find out the addresses of many of my favorite authors (except Gary Paulsen, who apparently lives in a shack in the wilderness, and whose mail we send to his agent). I’ve gotten to work in Midtown, something to boast of all on its own, at an office on Broadway just a few blocks up from David Letterman. I’ve been really, really lucky.

Then, in the trash, there’s a medical boot — a reminder of something less fun: my broken ankle, which I nursed through February, March, and April, and which still twinges when I move it wrong. Funnily enough, I can’t say I minded the ankle that much at the time. It was a massive inconvenience, yes; there are a large number of things I wasn’t able to do because of it, both hanging out with friends and NYU events. But, not to sound too twee and sappy, I think I learned something important from my broken ankle: how secretly kind New Yorkers are, and how much it means to people to perform small acts of kindness.

On my desk are two things. One is an envelope covered with doodles, from a very good friend, drawn in our senior year of high school — one is a sketch of skyscrapers and a little stick figure, with an arrow informing me that it is meant to be you, whooooooo!; another is a skull saying HAMLET I AM SO SICK OF YOUR SHIT; another is two plants labeled Rosenplantz and Guildenfern. It’s enormously silly, and I treasure it enormously much, in the same way I treasure the diary — it’s a goodbye gift from someone who knows me very, very well.

The other is a postcard from my brother, received only a few days ago: Bird’s eye view of Masada, an ancient fort in Israel from Roman times. He’s been in Israel and Greece, and today he’s set to fly back — which, I will not lie, I am more than a little relieved about. I’ve spent too long worrying about my brother over the past two months; I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d like him to be safely home.

The postcard is, well, a postcard. How is your brother liking Israel? asked my roommate, and I said, well, he says that he “saw all kinds of stuff” and “made a lot of friends”, and that he’s “having a blast”. She laughed, and I shrugged and said, he’s one who’s the genius scientist, I’m the one who’s the genius writer. It’s been strange taking a life path so different from his this year — when we were in elementary school and I was two years behind him, I used to call him a “guinea pig” for school, and now he’s counting insects on the beautiful beaches of Santa Barbara and adventuring around the world, and I’ve just finished an internship for a major publishing company in Manhattan. I don’t think either of us could’ve predicted this when we were in elementary school.

There’s the books still on my shelf. Some are well-beloved, the books I intend to carry around with me for the rest of my life: Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, my 1917 edition of Hamlet. Others are leftover textbooks from class that I’d like to keep: Antony and Cleopatra, The Things They Carried. Still more I acquired from friends, or because of friends — Infamous Scribblers, The Year of Endless Sorrows, 97 Orchard, Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide. Even today, when I do most if not all of my reading on an e-reader, I seem to attract copies of books like a lightbulb draws moths. I don’t think I’ll ever be happy without a few books near me.

There’s a bag full of scarves, only a few of which I ever actually wore, and a Tupperware full of makeup, and a tissue box. There are two black umbrellas, and three black notebooks, and the box of envelopes that my English teacher gave me so I could write to her, and a mostly-empty page of stamps. There’s a ticket to HOPE X, which I’m attending this weekend, and a minifridge I was lent by a friend, and two purses, and two fans, and what I once described as an “emotionally significant pillowcase”. There’s Post-Its and staples and toothpaste and shampoo and a Captain America doll and my high school yearbook; there’s towels and laundry soap and jackets and tarot cards. There’s medical tape, and vitamins, and Ibuprofen, and an alarm clock, and a water bottle, and on and on and on, things I’ve bought, things I’ve been given, things I’ve borrowed, things and things and things beyond things.

I know that in this enlightened world we live in, we are not supposed to care about things. But I do; I can’t help myself. I care about the things that surround me. I care about them because I have used them long enough that they have begun to mean something. I care about them because they are proof of me, that I was here, that I live and act and leave traces in the world. I care about them because because they are full of the ghosts of the people I once was.

And perhaps I care about them because, almost a year ago in this dorm room, I scribbled quickly, I shouldn’t be writing, I should be saying hi.

And the evidence is all around me that I did.

I leave on Sunday, and being back in Oakland with my family will be wonderful. But New York is becoming home more and more these days, and I’m glad that this little dorm room, with all of my things in it, has been my home for these ten months. It’s been a good one.

I shouldn’t be writing, I should be saying goodbye.

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